Schach, Rabbi Eliezer

(1897-2001)
   Born in Lithuania, he was educated in Orthodox yeshivas in Lithuania and Russia. In 1940, he and his family escaped to Palestine. He became head of the Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnai Brak, a stronghold of the Misnagdim, the branch of ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazic Jewry that opposes the Hasidim. He was for many years cochairman of the Council of Torah Sages, the ruling body of the Agudat Israel Movement. His cochairman was Rabbi Simcha Bunim Alter, the head of the Ger (or Gur) Hasidic dynasty. The tension inherent in this relationship was given political expression in intense internal divisions within Agudat Israel. Schach's concern about the growing influence of the Hasidic wing over Agudat Israel's Sephardic (see ORIENTAL JEWS) followers prompted him to help form the Sephardi Torah Guardians (SHAS) breakaway faction that won four seats in the 1984 Knesset elections, compared to only two for Agudat Israel. In 1988, alarmed by the growing influence of his archrival, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the head of the world Lubavitch Hasidic sect, Schach and his followers left Agudat Israel and formed the Degel HaTorah Party that won two seats in the 12th Knesset.
   In 1992, on the eve of the election for the 13th Knesset, he agreed to have Degel HaTorah participate with Agudat Israel in a joint list called United Torah Judaism. However, Schach made a serious tactical error by permitting Agudat Israel to hold the lion's share of power in the alliance. Moreover, in public statements prior to the election, he implied that Sephardim were not yet ready to take on leadership responsibilities, thereby prompting many Sephardic voters to shift their support to SHAS. Despite this estrangement from the Sephardic community, as well as his advancing age, Schach remained a dominant force in the ultra-Orthodox community's political campaign to have Jewish law (halacha) imposed on ever-greater aspects of daily life in Israel. Rabbi Schach died on 2 November 2001 in Tel Aviv at the age of 103.
   See also Political parties; Religion.

Historical Dictionary of Israel. .

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